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Ehrlich lawyer calls for end of law firm probe

John Wagner

A lawyer for Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign is urging the state elections board to terminate a probe of whether the former Republican governor's law firm has improperly aided his comeback bid, arguing that the matter is moot because Ehrlich (R) has not officially filed as a candidate.

Prompted by a complaint by the Maryland Democratic Party, the State Board of Elections wrote Ehrlich's camp last month, asking a number of questions about Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice -- and specifically the role of Henry Fawell, a former Ehrlich press aide employed by the law firm.

The Democrats contend that Womble Carlyle's Baltimore office became a "de facto campaign office" for Ehrlich and that services provided by Fawell, who was frequently quoted in the media about the status of Ehrlich's candidacy, may have violated campaign finance laws.

"Because Governor Ehrlich has not filed a certificate of candidacy, the entire premise of your letter is wrong," John H. West III, a lawyer for Ehrlich, wrote to the State Board of Elections in a letter dated April 29 that was made public by the Ehrlich campaign Monday. "All of the charges in your letter are misplaced, and the inquiry should be terminated."

Though Ehrlich kicked off his campaign last month, he has not filed papers with the elections board, which are due in early July. He has said he plans to continue co-hosting a weekly radio show with his wife until that time as well.

West's letter also objects to the reach of the questions posed by the state board, arguing that "what Womble Carlyle does as a private law firm in assigning its employees to the public and private matters of the firm simply is not in the purview of the election board." And he states that "there is no formal relationship" between Ehrlich's campaign committee and the law firm.

In the "hopes of closing out this inquiry now," the letter goes on to relay several points about Womble Carlyle. Among them: Three former members of Ehrlich's gubernatorial communications staff -- Fawell, Greg Massoni and Paul Schurick -- have been employed by the law firm. Massoni resigned March 31, the letter says. Fawell and Schurick have become part-time employees, as has Chris Massoni, Ehrlich's assistant and scheduler.

The letter says that Fawell has received media inquiries, "the overwhelming majority" of which he did not initiate. "Mr. Fawell responds to those calls when he can, while attending to his normal work and tasks at Womble Carlyle. ... We dare say that many other businesses and law firms here in Maryland and across the United States employ people with very similar profiles, work obligations and habits."

A copy of West's entire letter is available here: Ehrlich lawyer letter on Womble Carlyle.pdf

By John Wagner  |  May 3, 2010; 3:51 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections , John Wagner  | Tags: Maryland Democratic Party, Robert Ehrlich, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice  
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So, let me see if I have this straight. There is something sinister about Ehrlich's assistant in his private office answering a reporter's question regarding his possible campaign. But, it's perfectly acceptable that numerous government workers paid by the taxpayers are activley engaged in promoting O'Malley's campaign from the Governor's office? Give me a break!

Posted by: LarryHogan | May 3, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Ehrlich exploiting another loophole in the law...what's new? Imagine what laws he'll exploit as Governor if he's elected. Oh wait, we already know because he was already Governor - he sucked.

Posted by: jim85 | May 3, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

It's absolutely ridiculous that anybody would think that Bob Ehrlich's exploitation of this law is ok. How can Bob Ehrlich say that he isn't a candidate for governor on one hand while asking for money to run for governor on the other hand?

Actually, come to think of it, it's entirely possible he's raising money for a new set of golf clubs.

Posted by: hamsandwich | May 3, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Yeah...that's the picture. If one is raising money for a campaign -- the process and the content of which is regulated by Maryland law -- why is one not considered a candidate?

Nooooooooo...don't tell me this is another loophole in the campaign finance law that Ehrlich is exploiting. Perhaps he's a candidate in the real sense but not in the legal sense.

And, of course, the perfect defense is that "everyone does it." Exploits the loopholes in the law, that is.

I think his old partner, Michael Steel, did this. He used almost $195K from his Maryland campaign committee to pay salaries and compensation while he was positioning himself to be elected to head the RNC.

But, I would never say this is only something done by Republicans.

Posted by: goodgovernment | May 4, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse


Did you object to Bob Ehrlich's use of state employees and resources as the incumbent governor in his unscuccessful 2006 re-election bid?

State law and ethics guidelines address political activity by state employees:

Anyone suspecting a violation can notify state ethics commission, just as the Maryland Democrats suspected Bob Ehrlich and his law firm violated election law and notified the state board of elections.

Don't believe the Ehrlich lawyer's trivialization of the matter; the Maryland Democrats allege that Henry Fawell, Greg Massoni, and Paul Schurick did much more than respond to phone inquiries on behalf of Bob Ehrich's re-election campaign.

- Steve Lebowitz, Annapolis

Posted by: justdafactsSteveLebowitz | May 4, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

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